Bar News - May 14, 2010
NH Supreme Court Professional Conduct Committee
Bruzga, Paul W. advs. Betty Denison # 07-068
SUMMARY OF SIX MONTH SUSPENSION
STAYED FOR ONE YEAR WITH CONDITIONS
On February 16, 2010, the Professional Conduct Committee deliberated the above referenced matter and issued a six month suspension, stayed for one year with conditions, to Paul W. Bruzga, Esquire, of Dunbarton, New Hampshire.
Mr. Bruzga represented Betty J. Denison (Seller) with respect to the sale of real property. After extensive negotiations, the parties signed a Purchase and Sale Agreement (P&S), that included language with respect to the Buyer’s $20,000 deposit. The deposit was to be held in escrow, in an interest bearing account with all interest credited to the Buyer upon closing. Mr. Bruzga deposited the $20,000 into an IOLTA trust account, which does not pay interest to the owner of the funds.
On March 30, 2006, the parties executed a First Addendum to the P&S. One requirement was that Buyers provide notice to the Sellers "prior to April 13, 2006" to cancel the Agreement, in order for the Buyers to be entitled to the prompt return of the Deposit.
The Sellers were notified on April 13, 2006, that the Buyers were terminating the Agreement. In a letter dated April 20, 2006, the Buyers were informed that the termination was ineffective because notice was not provided "prior to" April 13, 2006. A dispute ensued about return of the deposit.
On May 11, 2006, Mr. Bruzga withdrew the deposit funds from the trust account and placed into an escrow account designated "Paul W. Bruzga, Escrow Account." The parties were not consulted prior to the transfer. In July, 2006, the Seller requested release of the deposit money, along with any interest earned. On August 8, 2006, Mr. Bruzga withdrew $8,564.26 from the escrow account, and forwarded it to the Seller with a final bill and explained that he had withdrawn the deposit money from the escrow account, deducted his fees therefrom, and was enclosing the difference in a check. Mr. Bruzga referred to the funds as their "damages" and further wrote that "it would be helpful to have a list of your damages totaling at least the above amount in order to rebut any claims for return of the deposit. Please prepare such a list for your records."
Although Mr. Bruzga considered the remaining balance ($11,547.21) earned legal fees, he did not transfer the balance to his operating account. Mr. Bruzga also advised the Sellers that they should put the money aside in the event that the former Buyers succeeded on any future claim to the deposit money.
On September 5, 2006, a Petition in Equity for Return of the Deposit was filed in Merrimack County Superior Court, a, naming the Sellers and Mr. Bruzga as respondents. The case was ultimately settled, costing the Sellers an additional $5,070 in legal fees.
The Committee determined that the record supported factual findings by clear and convincing evidence that:
The Committee found, by clear and convincing evidence, that Mr. Bruzga violated the Rule of Professional Conduct 1.15(a)(1) and 1.15(c): Safekeeping Property, and Rule 8.4(a): Misconduct.
- Mr. Bruzga did not safeguard client property when he transferred the deposit funds to an escrow account in his name when he had no authority to do so.
- Mr. Bruzga knew that there was an ongoing dispute between the parties as to the deposit funds at the time that he transferred the money to the escrow account.
- Mr. Bruzga claimed a personal interest in the remaining funds as payment for his attorney’s fees, during the ongoing dispute.
Mr. Bruzga was suspended from the practice of law for six months, stayed for a period of one year, with the following summary of conditions: complete six continuing legal education ethics credits beyond the annual requirements; successfully complete the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, and pay all costs of the investigation and prosecution of this matter.
The matter is public record, and is available for inspection at the New Hampshire Supreme Court Attorney Discipline Office, 4 Chenell Drive, Suite 102, Concord, New Hampshire 03301.
April 19, 2010
Green, Paula J. advs. Cynthia Haley # 09-034
SUMMARY OF PUBLIC CENSURE
On February 16, 2010, the Professional Conduct Committee deliberated the above-captioned matter, and issued a Public Censure to Paula J. Green, Esquire, of Manchester, NH, on March 29, 2010, for violations of N.H. Rule Prof. Conduct 1.4: Communications; Rule 8.1(b): Failure to Cooperate, and Rule 8.4(a): Misconduct. The parties stipulated to the facts, violations, sanction, and that Ms. Green would pay all costs associated with the investigation and prosecution of this matter.
On January 12, 2009, Ms. Green was retained by Cynthia A. Haley to represent her in her divorce. A fee agreement was signed with an hourly rate of $225.00. On or about April 15, 2009, an invoice was sent to the client, at an hourly rate of $250.00. When brought to her attention, Ms. Green agreed to correct the invoice and send a new bill, although none was ever sent.
The client’s attempts to reach Ms. Green about the invoice and the status of her case by e-mail and telephone on May 11, 2009, May 18, 2009, June 23, 2009, and July 10, 2009, were unsuccessful. The client was able to finalize her divorce without the assistance of counsel in August, 2009.
The Attorney Discipline Office sent correspondence to Ms. Green about the instant complaint on July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, and October 13, 2009, to which there was no reply.
- Ms. Green owed her client a duty to keep her reasonably informed regarding the status of her case, and breached this duty by neglecting to respond to inquiries.
The Committee considered the closeness in time of Ms. Green’s prior Reprimand for similar conduct, and her willingness to acknowledge and accept responsibility for her misconduct in this matter, in determining the sanction.
- Ms. Green’s failure to respond represents a knowing failure to respond to a lawful demand for information from a disciplinary authority.
- Because there exists clear and convincing evidence that Ms. Green violated Rules 1.4 and 8.1(b), there is necessarily clear and convincing evidence of a violation of N.H. R. Prof. Conduct 8.4(a).
The matter is public record and available for inspection at the New Hampshire Supreme Court Attorney Discipline Office, 4 Chenell Drive, Suite 102, Concord, NH 03301.
April 27, 2010